I learned a lot about political networking from Bill Clinton — tips I use to this day in the world of business. I was in my early 20s when I worked in the Clinton White House, and I didn’t know much at the time about developing relationships. Fortunately, I had a master to learn from.
Bill Clinton really could write a whole book on how to use networking effectively, if he wasn’t busy enough already.
(No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, I think you have to agree anyone who makes it to the Oval Office is a master at political networking.)
Here are three really powerful networking techniques Bill Clinton used as President:
1. Use Handwritten Notes
Bill Clinton mailed dozens and dozens of handwritten notes each month. He really believed in the power of sending personal notes, long before he was writing them on White House notecards.
He would send handwritten thank you’s, and birthday cards, and just “I was thinking of you” types of notes. He would send dozens of follow-up notes each month to people he had met in person. It wasn’t just about political networking – it was about keeping up a genuine friendly relationship with a wide range of people.
As a Writer in the Office of Presidential Letters and Messages, I had a number of cool experiences. One of the coolest though was I would receive photocopies of all of the President’s outgoing mail so that we could make sure our tone was in line with his actual voice. He would even circle something in a crossword puzzle that made him think of a particular person, then clip it out and mail it to them with a note scrawled in the margin. It would just show the recipient that he was thinking about them.
How can you write more handwritten notes to people who you want to keep in touch with? If you were writing a guide to political networking in a strategic way, you would have to include a chapter on handwritten notes. They are truly invaluable.
2. Solicit Input from Others
In January 1993, shortly after Bill Clinton was sworn in to office and had traveled down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol Building, he showed up at his new home for the next four years – the White House. One of the first things he wanted to do was to make a few phone calls. After all, you’ve just been sworn in as President, you have this cool new office and house — what else are you going to do? Call your friends!
Problem was, he wasn’t able to make any calls. Not at first anyways. It turned out you couldn’t dial out from the existing phone in the Oval Office.
White House staff eventually fixed the Oval Office phone, and Clinton was legendary for calling people often late at night and soliciting their opinion on various matters. People love to give their opinion and be really listened to, even if you’re not the President of the United States.
Are there people you want to keep in touch with whose opinions you can solicit in a respectful way, from time to time? (Though don’t abuse it; people are more likely to be OK with a call at midnight from the leader of the free world.)
3. Give Freely of Your Time
Clinton was known for spending more time on a rope line than most politicians. I was at events where the speeches would wrap up and he would spend another 45 minutes to an hour working his way up and down the rope line, shaking hands, taking pictures, and having brief conversations.
In fact, he was incredible at networking with people at face-to-face events. That’s where he really shined.
His attitude was if people came out to hear him, often waiting for hours just for a glimpse of the President, then he would try hard to make sure everyone had an opportunity to shake his hand, get a quick picture, or just wave hello.
You don’t have to be President to implement this strategy. It’s about giving the gift of your time to others. For the people on your conversation list, how can you give more of your time? How can you block out time to be together?
If you’ve ever lost a loved one, how much would you give to have a few more hours of your time together, just sitting and spending time together? In our busy world, the gift of your time is a beautiful thing.
What’s your #1 tip about networking effectively?
If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy my article on How to Network for Business.